You may remember images like this one following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster—oil smeared across Gulf Coast beaches like a dirty bathtub ring. New research released this week suggests that a similar oily bathtub ring is lying on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
Scientists determined that an oily patch created by the BP oil disaster remains on the Gulf seafloor, stretching across roughly 1,250 square miles. They came to these conclusions using data collected as part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment at over 500 sampling locations in the Gulf. The source of the oil is most likely the subsea oil plumes that moved underwater—oil that spewed from the Macondo wellhead but never made it to the surface. As oiled particles fell out of the plume and settled on the Gulf seafloor, they created what the researchers are calling a “patchwork mosaic” of contaminated sites. The patches get more spread out the further they are from the wellhead, leading the scientists to conclude that there is still more oil lying beyond the edge of the bathtub ring, but it probably just hasn’t been detected yet.
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During the spring and summer of 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster released over 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This was an unprecedented amount of toxic material discharged into the Gulf, and scientists have been researching its impacts on marine and coastal wildlife ever since. One of the species of concern is the imperiled Atlantic bluefin tuna, which was spawning at the time and location of the BP disaster.
In a new study, scientists from Stanford University and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered that crude oil, specifically polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), disrupts the cellular pathway that allows juvenile bluefin and yellowfin tuna heart cells to beat effectively. This causes a slowed heart rate, reduced ability of muscular heart tissue to contract, and irregular heartbeats that can lead to cardiac arrest and death.
Crude oil is known to be toxic to the developing hearts of fish embryos and larvae, reducing the likelihood that those fish will survive. But until now, the details of how crude oil harmed fish hearts were unclear.
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Photo: Kris Krug via Flickr
The following is an excerpt from a post that first appeared on Huffington Post:
It’s been more than three years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster grabbed worldwide attention. The explosive blowout that tragically claimed the lives of 11 workers on board the rig in April 2010 also unleashed an unprecedented amount of oil that flowed uncontrolled into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. The impacts have been staggering and ongoing.
BP’s actions to stop the oil, as well as how much actually spewed into the Gulf, were the subject of the second phase of BP’s trial in New Orleans, which concluded last week. The final phase of the trial will take place next year, after which the judge will determine the penalties. In the meantime, here are some things you need to know.
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Photo © Cheryl Gerber / Ocean Conservancy
Have you seen the BP commercials about the company taking responsibility for the worst oil disaster in U.S. history? I for one usually see at least one every week. That’s because for the past three years, the company has spent hundreds of millions on advertising trying to clean up their image. But unfortunately, BP hasn’t been as diligent about spending money to actually clean up the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster they claim to be taking responsibility for.
Even as their advertisements continue to run on air, BP is now fighting its own settlement and refusing to provide much-needed funding to the people impacted by the disaster and to restoration efforts critical to bring back the health of Gulf ecosystems and marine life.
Why? Because BP claims that the people who lost their jobs and their way of life are trying to scam the company. This despite the fact that while BP makes about $4 billion in profit every three months, many people who lost their livelihoods have waited more than three years to receive compensation for their losses.
Instead of taking responsibility for the oil disaster in the Gulf and all of the repercussions to the people and wildlife who call the Gulf region home, BP is going out of its way to shirk responsibility for paying economic claims they already agreed to in court.
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Three years ago, on April 20, the lives of 11 men were cut short as a rig most of us had never heard of exploded, creating a fiery hell on the surface of the ocean and wreaking 87 days of havoc beneath the surface as oil spewed uncontrolled into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.
That spring and summer, as families of the 11 men mourned and the world watched live feeds of the wellhead blowing millions of barrels of oil into the waters we rely on for our food and our livelihoods. We saw images of oiled pelicans and birds washed up on shore. We saw vast amounts of a dispersant known as Corexit sprayed on the surface and at depth to make the oil “disappear” and, ostensibly, prevent a greater disaster on shore. We flew over blue-green water marked with long streaks of orange-colored dispersed oil and watched dolphins weave in an out of those toxic ribbons.
As we look forward to opportunities that arise for restoration and recovery from this tragedy, we must not forget the size of this disaster. We have one Gulf and one chance to do this right. This opportunity for restoration comes at a dear price and it is up to all of us to honor the lives lost by restoring the resources that make life on the Gulf possible.
So where are we three years on? There has been some progress in the last three years that we should recognize and celebrate, but there is still a lot of work to do.
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Oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, with a drilling rig in the background. Photo by Brandon Shuler
Passed in July 2012, The RESTORE Act directs money from penalties in response to the BP oil disaster to the Gulf Coast, but has only been a written law – a promise to the citizens of the region – until now. A newly announced $1.4 billion settlement between the Department of Justice and Transocean Ltd will provide some real green to the RESTORE Act and help to begin the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal and marine resources.
Holding all parties responsible for their role in the BP oil disaster is imperative to provide some of the financing needed to restore the Gulf’s ecosystems and people. Transocean will plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and pay over a billion dollars in fines.
It is great news that a combined $300 million from the settlement will be directed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Academy of Sciences. Using and improving science is extremely important not only in recovering from disasters, but in gaining a better understanding of the Gulf’s resources so we can provide better protection for these resources so critical to the culture and livelihoods of the Gulf Coast and the Nation.
This new settlement is a great step forward, but the biggest step is yet to come. BP still needs to be held fully accountable and it’s unfortunate that we still have no resolution of civil and administrative claims. We deserve nothing less than a trial resolution that recognizes and compensates the people of the Gulf for all that has been lost.
As we move forward, we must not forget the off-shore environment, where this disaster began. Restoration of the Gulf requires an approach that addresses marine resources as well as coastal environments and Gulf communities.
We must focus our effort, energy and funding to restoration of our coastal and marine environments as well as our coastal communities if we are going to realize our vision of a vibrant and healthy Gulf region. Ocean Conservancy encourages everyone to continue to be involved in the restoration process and to work together to make sure all liable parties are held accountable and that we have a Gulf of Mexico stronger than before.
Oiled beach at the Pensacola, Florida pier during the BP oil disaster.
Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection will receive $10 million from a settlement between the US Department of Justice and MOEX Offshore, which resolves civil penalty claims against the Macondo well investor for their role in the BP oil disaster. The Sunshine State will use $5 million to reduce urban stormwater runoff and nonpoint source pollution, and the other $5 million will be used to provide conservation easements for lands around the panhandle of Florida.
Florida’s Governor Scott said “millions will go into clean water projects, so Florida continues its progress in protecting and restoring our state’s natural waterbodies.”
Ocean Conservancy knows the importance of taking the entire ecosystem into account during restoration and supports the State of Florida’s $10 million investment in conservations easements and improving water quality. The culture and the economy of the Gulf Coast depend as much on the health of the ecosystem as the wildlife that thrives there does, and this decision will not only provide relief for citizens, but also for oysters and other wildlife in Pensacola Bay and other areas of the Panhandle.
The Gulf sustains a robust seafood industry as well as recreational fishing and tourism activities. The five Gulf states have a gross domestic product of over $2.3 trillion a year. This is a place where the culture and the economy depend on the health of the ecosystem—as does the wildlife that thrives there.
Despite this abundance, the region faces significant challenges from not only the recent BP oil disaster but decades of degradation from coastal erosion, pollution, overfishing and excessive nutrient runoff that has produced a dead zone of depleted oxygen. These problems threaten fish, wildlife, the places where they live and the people who depend on a healthy ocean for jobs and business.
The BP oil disaster demonstrated how every part of the Gulf, from far offshore waters and fisheries to coastal wetlands and communities, are connected and interdependent. The region needs science-based restoration that takes the entire ecosystem into account. This includes both coastal and marine (offshore) environments. Ocean Conservancy is pleased science-based restoration, which includes the entire ecosystem from the coastal and open water environments, is a focus for the State of Florida.